What marketers can learn from #fakenews

By Kai Crow
on 25 January 2017

Bruce Springsteen believes that his whole career has been built on the back of 1000 true fans. 1000 people that are so passionate about what he does that they will not only buy everything he’s selling, but much more importantly each of them will influence a thousand more people to buy some of The Boss. And a thousand times a thousand is a million and that’s a platinum record right there.

Is this true? Well, no.

I actually just made this story up (sorry Bruce). It’s my little contribution to Fake News. But it’s also a parable. Bear with me.

First, a very quick primer on fake news:

During the 2016 US Election cycle, teenagers in a town in Macedonia started experimenting with publishing provocative and consistently fake “news” stories about the US presidential election on their own purpose built websites with a view to inflaming a partisan audience. In turn, that audience would share this information via social media. The traffic then generated created ad revenue for the site owners.

Fake news spread around the internet by Macedonian teens during the US election campaign

Learn more on buzz feed

https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/how-macedonia-became-a-global-hub-for-pro-trump-misinfo

Clickbait news has been around for a long time, but this was different. It’s estimated that at one point in 2016 more than half of the news being shared on Facebook was fake. Those Macedonian teenagers had hit pay dirt.

How does this work? Well the mechanism is simple. Using traditional marketing, attracting enough visitors to your site to make it an ad revenue success is improbably hard. If you have to pay for each visitor that you get (via adwords or other promotion), it quickly becomes uneconomic.

But what if instead of you doing the work to get traffic, you had an army of people doing it for you? That’s how fake news works. The traffic-building job is handed to the audience. Those inflamed partisans are so, well, inflamed, that they’re rigorously sharing the fake news via Facebook. They’re the same as the Boss’ 1000 true fans.

Put another way, people who are fans of something pass it around. They just need an easy mechanism to do so and a little encouragement.

Most SaaS businesses have somewhere between a handful and an army of fans. And most SaaS businesses underutilize this resource.

We’ve been spending lots of time researching the emerging field of Advocacy Marketing. It’s a fancy term for the Boss’ simple concept – getting existing customers to talk about your company and your products. This not only gives your marketing much greater reach at a lower cost but, more importantly, by adding the customer voice to your marketing, you add a whole level of social validation.

Customers talking about your products are… erm… taken more seriously than you talking about your products. This approach is particularly suited to SaaS businesses, because SaaS businesses have continuously engaged customers. (Compare that for a moment to lots of product businesses where even getting customer names is a struggle).

Advocacy Marketing is a three-step process:

  1. You need to be able to identify who your fans are.
  2. You need to make it easy for these fans to promote your products.
  3. You need to work out how to encourage your fans to share the love.

In this short series of papers, we’ll cover the rules for each of these steps, and share all our research into Advocacy Marketing.

Bruce Springsteen believes that his whole career has been built on the back of 1000 true fans. 1000 people that are so passionate about what he does that they will not only buy everything he’s selling, but much more importantly each of them will influence a thousand more people to buy some of The Boss. And a thousand times a thousand is a million and that’s a platinum record right there.

Is this true? Well, no.

I actually just made this story up (sorry Bruce). It’s my little contribution to Fake News. But it’s also a parable. Bear with me.

First, a very quick primer on fake news:

During the 2016 US Election cycle, teenagers in a town in Macedonia started experimenting with publishing provocative and consistently fake “news” stories about the US presidential election on their own purpose built websites with a view to inflaming a partisan audience. In turn, that audience would share this information via social media. The traffic then generated created ad revenue for the site owners.

Fake news spread around the internet by Macedonian teens during the US election campaign

Learn more on buzz feed

https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/how-macedonia-became-a-global-hub-for-pro-trump-misinfo

Clickbait news has been around for a long time, but this was different. It’s estimated that at one point in 2016 more than half of the news being shared on Facebook was fake. Those Macedonian teenagers had hit pay dirt.

How does this work? Well the mechanism is simple. Using traditional marketing, attracting enough visitors to your site to make it an ad revenue success is improbably hard. If you have to pay for each visitor that you get (via adwords or other promotion), it quickly becomes uneconomic.

But what if instead of you doing the work to get traffic, you had an army of people doing it for you? That’s how fake news works. The traffic-building job is handed to the audience. Those inflamed partisans are so, well, inflamed, that they’re rigorously sharing the fake news via Facebook. They’re the same as the Boss’ 1000 true fans.

Put another way, people who are fans of something pass it around. They just need an easy mechanism to do so and a little encouragement.

Most SaaS businesses have somewhere between a handful and an army of fans. And most SaaS businesses underutilize this resource.

We’ve been spending lots of time researching the emerging field of Advocacy Marketing. It’s a fancy term for the Boss’ simple concept – getting existing customers to talk about your company and your products. This not only gives your marketing much greater reach at a lower cost but, more importantly, by adding the customer voice to your marketing, you add a whole level of social validation.

Customers talking about your products are… erm… taken more seriously than you talking about your products. This approach is particularly suited to SaaS businesses, because SaaS businesses have continuously engaged customers. (Compare that for a moment to lots of product businesses where even getting customer names is a struggle).

Advocacy Marketing is a three-step process:

  1. You need to be able to identify who your fans are.
  2. You need to make it easy for these fans to promote your products.
  3. You need to work out how to encourage your fans to share the love.

In this short series of papers, we’ll cover the rules for each of these steps, and share all our research into Advocacy Marketing.


About the author

Kai Crow

Kai is based in our Auckland, New Zealand office and while his name means ‘food’ in the New Zealand native language of Maori he is not actually edible. When he’s not keeping our sales and marketing stuff running, Kai’s out riding a mountain bike or running down the beach with his two dogs, Rufus and Sparky.

Other posts by Kai Crow

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